At Five Years and Growing, the Annual DC Web Fest Offers Variety Aplenty

DC Web Fest poster in front of US Navy Memorial Heritage Center

On Saturday, April 1, 2017, I traveled to our nation’s capital to check out the 5th Annual DC Web Fest. Sadly, I was unable to stay the full length of the evening (almost 7 hours, running from 4 to 10:45pm), but I saw enough to get a good sense of the event, and to know that I will do my best to head back next year. With a nice combination of virtual reality (VR) displays, screenings of short films and excerpts from web series, as well as copious networking opportunities, the DC Web Fest offers a good variety of material that entertains while it informs. What follows is a brief review of all that I experienced.

A festival attendee enjoying one of Navteca’s short VR pieces

The entire festival took place at the US Navy Memorial Heritage Center, and once I checked in, shortly after 4:30, I headed down the stairs to the main exhibition gallery, where large numbers of people had already gathered, mingling amongst the many VR stations. There was a full bar, and copious food on tables in front. After walking around a bit, I checked out two of the VR areas, run by Capitol Interactive and Navteca. At the former’s booth, I checked out a few historical pieces, and then discussed the two different kinds of rigs they use to create content: the Back-Bone and the Omni; at the latter’s, I watched a piece on climate change and then two tours, one of Spain and one of Washington, DC. In a different corner of the room, NotionTheory was demonstrating a new game application, but I didn’t have time to check it out, as the first program of short video content was about to begin.

DC Web Fest founder and director Otessa Ghadar introduces the first screening program

So, off I headed to the theater. There, over the course of 90 minutes, the crowded hall was treated to 9 episodes of longer web series. In order, we watched the following: The Wizards of AUS (Australia), Mimosas with Millie (U.S.), Fat & Fat (Germany), Like You (Australia), The Watercooler (New Zealand), That’s My DJ (Canada), Bertrand (France), Zyara (Lebanon) and High Road (New Zealand). Of those, my favorites were, by far, Fat & Fat, which managed to be hilarious and touching in equal measure, and Zyara, a beautifully photographed, elliptical tone poem about the people of Lebanon. Two of the series had scored big-name actors: The Wizards of Aus had Guy Pearce (Results) in a supporting role, and High Road had Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks). Impressive, but not enough to make me love either series (though they both won awards later in the evening, as did Zyara, but nothing for Fat & Fat). Overall, it was an interesting program, broken up into groups of 3 or 4 episodes, each introduced by a different speaker.

From left to right: Michael Ajakwe, Jr., Otessa Ghadar and Csongor Dobrotka at the panel discussion

Those speakers then appeared on a panel that served as intermission between the two screening programs, which included: Michael Ajakwe, Jr. (founder of LAWEBFEST); Otessa Marie Ghadar (founder and director of the DC Web Fest); Csongor Dobrotka (co-founder of die Seriale); Stephanie Deluca (a development executive and freelance producer); and Morgan H. West (founder of A Creative DC). The main topic of discussion was the place that content designed exclusively for the web has in our world today. It’s still an evolving process, but as the episodes that had just screened demonstrate, there are definitely some fine examples of creative ingenuity out there.

Unfortunately, I had to run after the panel was done, and so was unable to watch the second program, nor stay for the awards ceremony nor the social hour afterwards. Next year, perhaps. And maybe, as the festival continues to grow, it will last for longer than one afternoon and evening. Here’s hoping!

Abraham Lincoln can enjoy VR, too, courtesy of NotionTheory!

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. He is the lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning “Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed”; a regular film commentator for the “Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at “The Baltimore Sun”; an occasional writer for the magazine bmoreart.com; and the author of “Film Editing: Theory and Practice.”

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